Can a quarter-century really have passed since Ratso Rizzo first sneered "I'm walkin' heaahh!" and Joe Buck grinned at himself in the mirror, straightening the Stetson on that golden Texas rube's head?

Midnight Cowboy returns to the big screen this Friday for a one-week run at the Mayan, and its silver-anniversary revival (complete with new prints and Dolby sound) reminds us what makes a real American Movie Classic.

Waldo Salt's tragedy about the unlikely bond between two wounded creatures, a would-be big-city stud fresh from the prairies and a grimy little New York hustler who's dying of pneumonia, remains a masterpiece of the screenwriter's art. John Schlesinger's direction, ranging from the grindhouses of 42nd Street to the stylish townhouses of the East Side, is still one of the great examples of atmospheric filmmaking. And the heartbreaking performances, which catapulted Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight to stardom, seem as sound now as the day Cowboy came out of the editing room.

The film was, of course, strapped with an X rating when it was released in 1969. But after it won three Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture, the tastemakers at the MPAA reconsidered and gave it an R.

The film is still astoundingly good, despite what P.C. ideologues may now have to say about its treatment of homosexuality, incipient and actual.

Hundreds of lesser movies were influenced by Schlesinger's gritty realism and Ratso and Joe's vivid last grasp at dignity, but there's still only one Midnight Cowboy.

Twenty-five years later, we're all still watchin' heaahh.


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